It doesn’t happen very often in Belgium, but at this time of year one doesn’t need to be on one’s own bicycle to be entertained. For 11 months of the year you could be forgiven for opting for a ‘weekend away in Gravesend’, rather than Flanders (said with the same sort of masked affection you would employ when calling your best mate a pleb), but this Belgium’s moment in the sun – quite literally too, at the moment. There’s so much excitement and buzz revolving around the arrival of the cobbled classics that one weekend flies to the next faster than Tom Boonen ascends the Taaienberg.
The best way, in my opinion, to get any real sense of the races from a spectator’s point of view, is to get out amongst the hubbub of it all and go race-chasing. Similar to the popular hobby, Storm chasing, but with more drama and risk involved.
It’s the done thing to do for a lot of locals at the big races – Het Nieuwsblad, E3 and of course De Ronde. Last year I joined the masses and chased the Tour of Flanders around, testing my local road knowledge and managing to see it 6 times. With so many other people doing the same, the scenes can only be described as resembling the type of frantic mass exoduses you see in films like Independence day or Godzilla. With the berg locations so close both geographically and in time, the lead car is often rolling past while hundreds of people are still arriving, and the last rider in the bunch as barely come into view before everyone is running back to their mode of transport – off road things like quad bikes and motocross bikes are often popular for ‘short cuts’.
Anyhow, as my Mum and Girlfriend were visiting last week, it would have been rude not to join the masses for E3 Prijs. We managed to see the race 5 times, which wasn’t a bad effort. Ok you don’t get to see the race unfold, but there are no lack of crowded bars to watch the finish in once you have seen the gory bits and managed to piece together what’s happened so far.
Crowds gathering on The Muur.
Now, by tactfully choosing to race this coming Saturday, I’ll hopefully get out and beat last years effort of 6 viewpoints in ‘Vlaanderens Mooiste’, the Tour of Flanders.